Kindertransport I


Frank Meisler’s Berlin memorial to the “kindertransport” Jewish children, including my uncle Bernd Koschland, who were evacuated as orphans to England in 1938.

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The Kindertransport (German for ‘children transport’) was a rescue initiative agreed to by the British government shortly after Kristallnicht under which, in the nine months preceding the outbreak of the Second World War, approximately 10 000 Jewish children aged from infancy to seventeen years came to England alone and without their parents from Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Austria. These children were placed in British foster homes, hostels, schools or farms, and some of them later became the only members of their families to survive the Holocaust.

They were only allowed to bring a small sealed suitcase containing no valuables and up to ten marks in money. Some of them arrived with nothing but a numbered tag around their necks and their name attached to their backs. While they were spared the horrors of the death camps, these children were traumatised by being uprooted, separated from their parents, and transported to a foreign culture. They had to suddenly grow up and face a different world alone where they could not speak the language and had no idea what would become of them. Many were brought up in English hostels, some were lucky enough to be adopted by English families and, a few were unfortunately not very well treated by foster parents. For Abigail this is a very personal painting as her uncle, Rabbi Bernd Koschland who married her mother’s sister Ruth, was an 8 year old Kindertransport child[1] when he arrived in England and she has dedicated this painting to him. It depicts two bronze monuments to the Kindertransport that were created by Frank Meisler, himself a Kindertransport child, that have been installed at the central railway station in Friedrichstrasse in Berlin. In reality the two monuments stand back to back but in Abigail’s painting they both face the viewer.

Abigail’s uncle Bernd was born in Fürth in Bavaria, southern Germany and witnessed the agony his parents endured in deciding to send him to England alone. His mother accompanied him to Hamburg and saw him on board the SS Manhattan together with other Kindertransport children. He never saw his parents again, but they did subsequently manage to also send his older sister to England where she found domestic work and had a very difficult life. Bernd was placed in a strict disciplinarian hostel in Margate where the letters his parents wrote to him were destroyed as Germany was an enemy country. This wounded him deeply. There he forged an abiding friendship with a fellow Kindertransport child, Joe Fertig, and they were later evacuated together to the rural village of Hammerwich due to German air bombardments. There they stayed with a kindly English couple who had never seen a Jew before, and attended the local day school together.

However, they were abruptly separated when he was sent to Tylers Green, an orthodox Jewish hostel near rural Wycombe, where he received his religious upbringing under the benevolent directorship of Rabbi Munk until the hostel disbanded in 1947. Bernd then went on to study for the Rabbinate, became a high school teacher and involved himself in interfaith work. He and Abigail’s aunt Ruth, of blessed memory had a son and a daughter and he is blessed with grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. He is presently retired in London and holds a hospital and a local police chaplaincy. He has remained in close contact with the Kindertransport community and is the editor of its newsletter. Rabbi Koschland believes that the children of the Kindertransport can best express their appreciation for their survival by trying to make the world a better place.

Abigail’s painting commemorates the fate of her uncle and all the Kindertransport children who somehow managed to bravely carry on their lives despite the terrible loss and upheaval of their childhoods. In her depiction angels, some holding a red rose as a gesture of rachamim (compassion), descended from above against an eerie blue background to guide the children as they set out on their journey to an unknown future, uprooted from their homes and parents, and yet lucky to be spared. The toys that accompany them emphasise their youthful innocence. Abigail appears at the bottom of the work seated in a meditative pose inviting the viewer to identify with the children.

[1] Koschland, Bernd in Leverton Lowensohn, 1990:173ff. e-mail to Abigail Bagraim 13.1.2015.

Additional information

Artwork Option

A4 Print (approx 21 x 30 cm), A3 Print (approx 30 x 42 cm), A2 Print (approx 42 x 60 cm), A1 Print (approx 60 x 84 cm)


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